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My Auckland Arts Festival Picks | Renee Liang

28 Feb 2018
Auckland Arts Festival is just around the corner and from the huge variety of shows and events, playwright Renee Liang writes what she's most excited about

Seeing what’s in the festival each year is like opening up a box of chocolates. So many tantalising flavours. So little time to scoff them. This year I opened the box with even more anticipation because Jonathan Bielski has taken over as the Auckland Arts Festival Artistic Director. What is his taste? What has he picked to bring home to us?

An arts festival has many purposes, but as a playwright one of the primary ones for me is exposure to new shows. Like a scientist or doctor, I need to keep up with my professional development, and that means seeing as much state-of-the-art Art as possible. Because I work a day job and have a young family, residencies and “study trips” are mostly out. I rely on the yearly festival binge and I feed off the energy and ideas for a long time afterwards.

So what’s exciting me about Auckland Arts Festival 2018? The first and most obvious thing is the expanded footprint. While I love the way the centre of the city—especially our often unsexy Aotea Square—lights up, Auckland is huge and it’s not exactly easy or cheap to get into town. AAF 2018 explodes its footprint from Albany to Flatbush. Even its “central” footprint is spread between the Q Theatre-Aotea Centre-Civic triangle and Silo Park-Waterfront Theatre. It remains to be seen (for those of us who cram shows in back-to-back) how easy it is to travel between the two central sites and whether this might decrease the energy of the Festival.

Secondly, there’s a deliberate focus on family and community events. These run the gamut from locally driven and partnered (the Whānui project, which this year expands into four very different and provocative works in Mangere, Flat Bush, Albany, and Glen Innes) to huge international shows showcasing artists at the height of their powers—for example À Ố Làng Phố, billed as Vietnamese Circus but looking more like an impressively athletic dance work. For the children who prefer to run for their art, there’s the House of Mirrors, a maze, and for the truly brave parents there’s a fiery street parade, The Drums of Fire, that audience are invited to join.

It’s also great to see an increased focus on access and inclusion. Four works have audio description available for those who are blind or visually impaired; four works are New Zealand Sign Language interpreted; and for the first time, there’s a “relaxed performance” of youth circus show Junk for people with autism and sensory disorders.

However, we’ve lost a few events, most sadly the Festival Tent, walking distance from most venues, where artists and audiences used to congregate after shows—it was a very productive time as we swapped inside information and broached collaborations. We’ve also lost White Night, which activated the entire CBD, and the big family spectacles in the Domain. The Festival Tent has been replaced with the Festival Playground, a curated foodie/kiddy/audiophile paradise. It will require transport to reach from the central city hub so it remains to be seen whether people will still go there after shows.

What shows am I excited to see? I’m attracted to the theatre shows for obvious reasons.  AAF continues its love affair with Robert Lepage, bringing The Far Side of the Moon to New Zealand; there is a particularly strong homegrown program, with Hone Kouka’s Bless The Child tackling the issue of child abuse head on; David Mamea’s award-winning Still Life With Chickens; and Ahi Karunaharan’s Tea, an opulent history of Sri Lankan tea workers featuring ten local South Asian actors—a watershed moment for South Asian New Zealand theatre.

There’s similar feasts to be had in the music program, high profile international artists mixing with our local heroes. Max Richter’s Sleep deserves a mention—eight hours of music with yoga sessions and chill/sleep zones as a communal nocturnal experience.  At nearly $200 I’d be trying to stay awake to get my money’s worth, but it’s an alluring idea, this part experiment/ part mass dream.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be seeing lots of shows, some with my kids in tow, and as in previous years I’ll be posting regular blogs. See you at the Festival!


For more information about shows, tickets, and locations, visit: http://www.aucklandfestival.co.nz/